Cinga Samson - visual artist
Cape Town-born painter Cinga Samson, who grew up in the Eastern Cape, smashed records recently when his work Two Piece 1 sold for $300 000 at auction house Phillips’ 20th century and contemporary sale in New York. It’s the culmination of a run of acclaim and international attention that the 34-year-old artist has been enjoying over the last few years. He held his first solo show in New York past year, earned a significant interview in The New York Times. Known for his striking, ethereal, and coolly elegant portraits of white-pupiled figures against surreal backgrounds, Samson’s work is deeply influenced by his upbringing near Mthatha in the Eastern Cape.
In his early 20s, he was part of the Isibane artists’ collective in Cape Town before catching the attention of the influential Blank Projects gallery, where from 2015 he showed consistently and to much acclaim and interest from collectors before landing a spot with the prestigious contemporary French art dealer Emmanuel Perrotin, whose New York gallery presented his solo show Amadoda Akafani, Afana Ngeentshebe Zodwa (Men Are Different Though They Look Alike) last year. He’s now represented worldwide by White Cube in London. Although influenced by the place he comes from, Samson is carving a space for himself on the tough-to-break-into international art scene because of his commitment, as he told The New York Times, to not be “an artist that feeds Western fantasies about what Africa is”.
Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha - opera singer
Rangwanasha is 27 years old and the latest in a long line of South African-born performers to blow the socks off the international opera world after she was announced as the winner of this year’s Song Prize at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition. It’s the culmination of an award-winning and eventful few years for Rangwanasha, who started singing at school and church at a young age Is’thunzibefore honing her craft at University of Cape Town and the Tshwane University of Technology. After winning several awards at competitions in South Africa and abroad, Rangwanasha returned to South Africa, where she sang soprano solo in Verdi’s Requiem with the Oude Libertas Choir in Stellenbosch in 2019 and was nominated for Best Singer in the category at the Woordfees in the same year.
John Gilhooly, chair of the judges of the Singer of the World, says that while the competition was characterised by outstanding performances from all the finalists, “sadly there could be only one winner and Masabane performed with such assured technique and emotional power that the jury was unanimous in naming her the winner”. She will now go on to join the ensemble of the prestigious Bern Staatsoper for two years. If her performance in Cardiff is anything to go by, opera fans are guaranteed to be hearing a lot more from the talented singer in the coming seasons.
Thuso Mbedu - actress
Thuso Mbedu grew up in the suburb of Pelham in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. As a young girl afflicted with allergies, Mbedu thought she might like to grow up to become the first member of her family to practise as a doctor. Her mother died when she was only four years old, and Mbedu and her sister were raised by their grandmother who would have loved nothing better than for her granddaughter to go into medicine.
But Mbedu’s fate would be different, as the acting bug bit while she was in high school. She eventually convinced her grandmother that acting was her destiny, and off she went to Johannesburg to study drama at Wits. While still a student, Mbedu began landing television roles in series such as Isibaya, the teen drama Snake Park, and then a major role in Is’thunzi, for which she earned two International Emmy nominations, in 2017 and 2018.
While in the United States for the International Emmy Awards show in 2018, Mbedu was encouraged by her agent to submit an audition tape for what turned out to be Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins’ epic miniseries The Underground Railroad. The rest is history as Mbedu went on to land the starring role in Jenkins’ adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Colson Whitehead that tells the story of her character Cora’s treacherous journey from bondage to freedom in the antebellum South. Critically acclaimed as one of the most significant and singular television events in recent memory, and for the emotional complexity of Mbedu’s lead performance, the show unfortunately did not secure Mbedu the Emmy nomination many felt she deserved. That hasn’t stopped her though, as she’s now busy preparing to star alongside Oscar-winner Viola Davis in director Gina Prince-Bythewood’s epic drama about the legendary women warriors of the Dahomey Kingdom.
Busisiwe Ntintili - film and television writer and producer
The child of South African exiles, Busisiwe Ntintili grew up in New Jersey, where she would watch hours of television to entertain herself while her busy parents were pursuing their academic careers. She was still young when she started writing poems and plays, and it was through her exposure to US television classics such as The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy and the burgeoning African-American talent of performers in shows including In Living Colour and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air that Ntintili discovered her love of the medium and her calling.
She studied literature and film at university in the United States before returning to South Africa and landing a job in advertising before working her way into the hallowed halls of television production with a gig on the first Big Brother SA. Since then, she’s never looked back and has won numerous awards for her writing on shows such as Intersexions and the hugely popular and successful romantic comedy Happiness is a Four-letter Word, which stars and was written and produced by only Black women. Now, Ntintili has reached a new major global audience with the production of Jiva!, a vibrant, colourful, and 100% local dance drama series that was released on Netflix last month. Inspired by a generation of young South Africans she describes as “go-getters, hustlers, and entrepreneurs who are actively sharing their creative talents to the world over social media and on the streets of their communities”, Jiva! has already proved a hit with local and international audiences and is set to put Ntintili and her co-creators firmly on the road to success.
Sumayya Vally - architect
She grew up in the Pretoria suburb of Laudium, but it’s the pull, push, and history of Johannesburg that’s provided the inspiration for the multi-disciplinary and celebrated work of 31-year-old architect Sumayya Vally. Introduced to the bustle of Johannesburg during childhood visits to her grandfather’s inner-city store, Vally developed a keen interest in the contradictions between the city’s grand colonial architectural projections and the realities of the life of informal traders and workers carrying on in its streets.
After studying architecture at the University of Pretoria and Wits, Vally and a group of her peers established the architectural practice Counterspace. These young architects had grown disillusioned with the disconnect between the first-world ideas they’d been taught and the more complex realities evident in the urban areas of a post-apartheid South Africa coming to terms with the effects of apartheid’s brutal segregationist city planning.
The group began to attract attention for a number of interesting engagements in the city focusing on the glaring inequalities of Johannesburg’s architectural legacy before landing one of global architecture’s most sought-after commissions — to design the Serpentine Gallery pavillion in London. Vally is the youngest architect to be accorded this prestigious honour, joining the likes of world-renowned architects such as Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid. Her work on mine dumps and their effects on the physical and social environment of Johannesburg has also resulted in a singular pigment-based mirror installation, Folded Skies, which was first exhibited at the Spier Light Art Festival in Stellenbosch in 2018 and is now on view in Johannesburg at the Johannesburg Contemporary Art Foundation as part of its new exhibition Liminal Identities in the Global South, which features work by renowned women artists from South Africa, Latin America, and Africa. Counterspace’s Serpentine installation is attracting favourable buzz. It’s only the beginning for Vally and her team as they continue their mission to produce work that is distinctive and influenced by the realities of life in the City of Gold and the wide array of people who live in it.
Akin Omotoso - filmmaker
Born in Nigeria, Akin Omotoso began his long and committed career in the world of film as an actor on South African television shows in the 1990s before directing his debut feature, God is African, a 1999 drama examining the realities of life for African migrants in Johannesburg. Omotoso went on to direct numerous television shows for South African broadcasters and to champion the rights of local filmmakers before earning popular success with his 2010 Maboneng-set romantic comedy Tell Me Sweet Something. Maboneng is of course one of the recently developed trendy spots in the City of Gold.
His subsequent multi-character examination of the life of homeless people on the streets of Johannesburg, the drama Vaya, was the only South African film to be selected for the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival, where it gained significant international attention before being picked up in 2018 for international distribution by American filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s company Array. In 2020, Omotoso was invited to become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which selects the winners of the Oscars. In the same year, it was announced that Netflix had commissioned its first original Nigerian series, conceived and directed by Omotoso and several other leading lights of Nigerian cinema. Little has been revealed so far about the project, but it is known that it has six parts, is set in present-day Nigeria, was shot in Lagos, and is currently in post-production. As if that weren’t enough to keep Omotoso busy, his next project will unite the two great loves of his life, basketball and filmmaking, as he brings to screen the remarkable life story of Milwaukee Bucks NBA star Giannis Antetokounmpo for Disney +. Antetokounmpo was born in Greece to Nigerian parents and through his basketball prowess raised himself and his family out of the poverty of their hard lives as undocumented immigrants in Greece. In a recent Instagram post, Omotoso said that the biopic was his chance to deliver on his promise to himself that if he were ever to “make a basketball film, it would be a story that talks as much about life as it does about basketball”.
Koleka Putuma - poet, writer, playwright
There isn’t much in the world of letters that 28-year-old Koleka Putuma hasn’t excelled at in her enviable rise through the ranks of the South African literary establishment. Her 2017 collection of poetry, Collective Amnesia, has sold 8 300 copies (and still counting), with 14 print runs, and is also a prescribed text in several university curricula. Putuma, whose roots lie in performance poetry, first came to mainstream attention when she won the 2014 National Poetry Slam Competition. Her poem Water won the 2016 PEN South Africa Student Writing Prize. Her debut collection the following year earned plaudits both at home and abroad and has been translated into Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Swedish, and German — with French, Italian, and Portuguese in the works.
Her play No Easter Sunday for Queers won the Distell National Playwright Competition in 2018 and debuted at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg the following year.A fierce proponent of queer rights, the struggle for decolonisation, and the battle to end the legacy of apartheid, Putuma is also a canny entrepreneur whose multidisciplinary creative company, Manyano Media, was established last year to champion the work of Black womxn and queer artists. Manyano Media also announced last year that it had secured the rights to Collective Amnesia from original publishers uHlanga Press, so Putuma is now in the rare position of being a writer who owns the rights to her own intellectual property. Manyano Media has also just published Putuma’s much-anticipated second poetry collection — Hullo, Bu-Bye, Koko, Come In — which takes its title from the Queen of African Pop Brenda Fassie’s 1992 song Istraight Lendaba and continues its author’s dedication to “go straight to the heart of tackling the legacies of Black femme erasure from society as well as the arts”.
Sibongile Mngoma - vocalist
The face of the recent performance- and music-filled sit-ins to protest the mismanagement of the National Arts Council’s Covid-19-relief fund for the arts, singer Sibongile Mngoma is a versatile vocalist who has performed across a wide range of genres on stages across the globe. Although she initially studied law at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, it was always her destiny to fulfil the “natural diva” tag she’d been given from a young age. In 1993, she began training as an opera singer at the South African College of Music. Since then, she’s studied in Italy, performed on stages there, and also in South Africa and London, where she performed in the Two Nations Celebrate concert for Nelson Mandela and the Queen. Mngoma is the winner of a Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music and FNB Vita Award for Best Opera Female Lead.
As one observer recently noted, the National Arts Council should’ve been focussed on getting Mngoma back on stages rather than forcing her to take centre stage as a campaigner for artists’ rights, but she’s always been a generous engager with other artists and firmly dedicated, through her extensive teaching work, to passing on skills to the new generation of South Africa’s impressive singing talent. Most recently she did manage to get back on stage — even if it was only a virtual one — for a programme of jazz and opera music presented as part of this year’s online National Arts Festival offering, which included a selection of works paying tribute to her aunt and mentor, the legendary impresario Sibongile Khumalo, who passed away earlier this year. As things in the performance arena gradually return to normal, you can be sure that Mngoma will be gracing plenty of opera and musical stages in the coming months.
The BLK JKS - musicians
When original members — vocalist Linda Buthelezi, guitarist Mpumelelo Mcata, bassist Molefi Makananise, and drummer Tshepang Ramoba — first burst onto the scene as The BLK JKS (pronounced Black Jacks) back in the mid-2000s, their unique blend of art rock, traditionally inspired rhythms, and anguished, haunting vocals caused a sensation on local and international stages. They toured all the coolest festivals on the global circuit, were signed by pioneering record label Secretly Canadian, and produced a critically hailed 2009 debut album, After Robots. Then life seemed to get in the way and, while the band released a few EPs and continued to perform as part of different groups, they never quite seemed to manage to deliver on the promise of their initial whirlwind success. It didn’t help that vocalist Buthelezi departed in 2012 and the rest of the members went on to fulfil ordinary roles in the cycle of life, such as fatherhood and breadwinning.
After several attempts to get things together for the recording of a follow-up album, the remaining members of the band, together with newcomer, trumpeter Tebogo Seitei, finally found themselves in the orchestra pit of the Soweto Theatre in 2018, working on long-awaited material for a new album. They’d built a studio specifically for the purpose, and all seemed to be on track until they returned to the orchestra pit one day to find that it had been burgled and all their equipment, including the tracks, stolen. This was a crushing experience and one that might have killed off the ambitions of many other bands in the same situation. But after some serious soul searching, The BLK JKS brushed themselves off and returned to studio in 2019 to record the material for their new album, Abantu/Before Humans, released in South Africa last year and now hitting international platforms it seems, judging by the critical and audience reception, that 12 years has been just long enough for their dedicated fans to wait. More complex, mature, and diverse in its range of influences and collaborators, the album is a wondrous thing for the ears to hear and has provided the much-needed spark for the energised live reappearance of The BLK JKS on local and international stages in the coming months — and hopefully much more new music in the future.
Loyiso Gola - comedian
The Covid-19 pandemic may have jammed a spanner in the works of Loyiso Gola’s increasingly busy UK and international touring schedule, but he didn’t spend the lockdown idling in depression. Rather, he went to the Zeitz MOCAA museum in Cape Town in the middle of the pandemic to film the first Netflix special by an African comedian — Unlearning — produced under Covid-19 protocols and released on the streaming giant’s platform in March this year.
A familiar and much-loved comedy legend in South Africa for many years thanks to his live shows and appearances in the seminal local TV series The Pure Monate Show and his subsequent role as host of the satirical news show Late Nite News, Gola has always been a smart and ambitious creator of his own career opportunities.
After the end of Late Nite News, he started splitting his time between South Africa and the UK, where he quickly began to make a name for himself, touring regularly and appearing on popular comedy panel and televised comedy shows including QI, Mock the Week, and Live at the Apollo. His success is certainly earned and the result of the kind of dedicated, continual hard work that he’s displayed ever since he first got into the comedy game at the tender age of 17 in his hometown of Cape Town. For his high-school work experience, Gola chose to job shadow comedians from the Cape Town Comedy Collective and soon earned his own spot on stage during the group’s performances. Since then, it’s been all about establishing himself as a global act. With Unlearning’s positive, popular, and critical reception, it shouldn’t be long before he achieves his dream that, as he told The Guardian recently, “If I go to Norway or Chicago or Nairobi, people will buy tickets to see my next hour of standup.” In June he was unveiled as the host of NBA Africa’s Who Got Game? — a YouTube basketball talk show — and in July, he resumed his globetrotting ways, with the 20-date UK tour for his new stand-up show Pop Culture kicking off in September.